This article applies existentialism to sustainable tourism discussion using an exploratory netnographic case study of twelve backpackers. Highlighted is the importance of both existential avoidance and authenticity to participants looking to escape and transcend underlying existential anxiety. Avoidance can be found in the cultural-adherence and self-esteem pathways facilitated by travel. Authenticity is identified in the deeper interactions with host peoples and landscapes, and the liberation, reflection and learning which emerges from this. Avoidance and authenticity are linked in turn with the sustainability of tourism pursued. The former is associated with more hedonistic escape and superficial, self-centric and insensitive tourism. The latter is suggestive of more transcendent escape and involved, appreciative and alternative tourism.